Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
August 26, 2012

In today's Middle East it's a simple thing to qualify for membership in an endangered species. Just be a Christian. Which is why Christians who can afford to do so are leaving for the West en masse. A fanatical mullah in Pakistan, displaying behavior that is all too typical of his fraternity, is right now demanding that an eleven-year-old Christian girl, mentally retarded, be stoned to death for blasphemy. Her crime? Burning some paper to keep warm! Paper that, so it is suspected, might have contained words from The Quran. No wonder that for centuries "The mercy of a rnullah" has stood as a classic oxymoron. Today's Christian communities in Iraq, communities that were flourishing as recently as a mere decade ago, have been reduced by more than half, and in the wake of America's precipitous (and calamitous) withdrawal of all of its armed forces from Iraq, Islamist attacks on Christians and on their homes and churches are reaching the level of Standard Operating Procedure, with little if any push-back from the Shiite Muslim government, a government which is acting in open collusion across the board with Iran's anti-Christian- and anti-American-mullahs. For Christians in civil war- ravaged Syria all signs point to big trouble ahead, while from neighboring Lebanon and from the West Bank a decades-long Christian exodus is picking up speed. Bethlehem, for centuries a Christian stronghold, seems doomed to becoming a ghost town, so far as a Christian presence is concerned.  Egypt's Coptic Christians, roughly ten percent of the total population, are living in a state of heightened and justified fear, given that the new Egyptian parliament boasts a 50 percent  representation from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, with yet another 25 percent chosen from the ultra-Islamist Nour faction. And just in the last few days Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi, leader of the Freedom and Justice Party and the recent recipient of an invitation to the White House, announced that he is consolidating in his own hands both executive AND legislative power, while his new Minister of Justice, Ahmed Mekki, has concomitantly declared the government's intent to "cleanse" Egypt's judiciary of those judges who are "corrupt" (i.e., resistant to the imposition of fanatical Muslim law, a.ka. Sharia). In Justice Minister Mekki's own words: "Judges are a society that want cleansing .... I will just remove the immunity of judges who are corrupt."

All of which should prompt us to keep Christians in the Middle East high on the list of those for whom we pray even as right here at home, thanks to the outrageous new Health and Human Services mandate, what can only be called a deliberate persecution of the Catholic Faith is up and running, with fines and legal harassment employed as the weapon of choice,

May I share with you here a report on the situation now prevailing in Egypt, the Arab Spring's showcase state. The report appeared in mid-July in the National Edition of  The Washington Times.
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Egypt's Christians Fear New Islamist Government
The Washington Times, July 16, 2012
Gracy Howard

When Souly Farag was growing up in Egypt, Christian houses were marked with crosses for burning. Coptic Christians were second-class citizens.

Forty-four years ago, Mr. Farag emigrated to the United States to provide a better future for his family. But even in the wake of the ouster of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak and Egypt's first democratic elections, the Farag family is in no hurry to return to their homeland.

When they found out Mohammed Morsi had been elected president, they were afraid. Mr. Farag's niece, visiting from Egypt, began crying as she told him, "I am not going home."

Egypt's democratic elections have been hailed as the dawn of a new era. But Mr. Morsi's election victory has not alleviated the fears of Coptic Christians and other minorities who foresee their freedoms disappearing under the rule of an Islamist state.

Michael Rizk, Egyptian-born co-founder of the Texas chapter of Copt Solidarity, an organization that advocates for the rights of Egyptian Copts, hears daily reports of persecution and mistreatment from his Egyptian relatives. Church burnings are a regular occurrence in villages across the country. Angry mobs - often incited by local sheikhs or imams - continue to torch Christian homes and businesses. Forced conversions to Islam and kidnappings of young girls have become hazards of daily life for Christians in Egypt, Mr. Rizk said.

"If I had a sister there is no way I would let her walk down the street," Mr. Rizk said. Uncovered women are easy to pinpoint as Christian. "In Islam, you are the equivalent of cow dung if you are a Christian," he said. "You are immediately treated as a second-or third-class citizen." Ihab Marcus, communications director for St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Washington, D.C., said many Egyptians turn to the American Coptic Church for support and encouragement-but "sometimes they can't talk openly for fear of further persecution." Mr. Marcus said he could not speak with complete openness about the situation in Egypt, for fear that Christians there will suffer reprisals.

Mr. Morsi, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has strong connections to fundamental Islam. In the past he opposed diplomatic relations with Israel, decried American influence in schools, and had a tense relationship with more liberal Brotherhood youth. But today, as president, Mr. Morsi speaks supportively of Western allies, promises to uphold the rights of women and Christians, and tells protesters and youth he will be their representative. Mr. Morsi's new sentiments could be genuine--or deceptive tactics to elicit Western support for his office. "The Muslim Brotherhood has pushed forward an agenda over the past 80 years," said Mr. Rizk. "It is a system that runs extremely smooth, and is extremely powerful. ... They make you hear whatever they WANT you to hear."

Mr. Rizk said it is unlikely Mr. Morsi will speak publicly in support of Sharia law or the veiling of women. Rather, he will "let the street do it for him."

 The current political state in Egypt reflects a growing "Islamic awakening" that has swept the region. Seventy-five percent of the electorate voted for Islamist parties in Parliament (half of that vote went to the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party). Cairo's Tahrir Square protesters have exhibited a decidedly anti-Israel, anti-Western sentiment.

Mr. Rizk said Western media have romanticized the Tahrir Square protests of 2011 "with the flag waving" and youths crying out for democracy. This year's protests have been completely different, he said.

"It's TWO different revolutions," he said. "The people then were just trying to stop corruption, military trials, and human rights abuses. Originally, that's what the revolution was about. But the Muslim Brotherhood saw an opportunity. This was their time. They stepped in, kicked the revolutionaries and activists out of Tahrir Square, raped women in public. ... All of a sudden, the square was occupied by Islamic fundamentalists...."

Coptic Church representatives in Egypt have warned they may quit the constitutional assembly over concerns with the constitution's second article: It now states that government should legislate through "principles" of Sharia law, but hardline Salafists in the assembly want to impose LITERAL Sharia governance, force conversions, kidnap Christians, and put veils on all women. All these are part of Sharia law."

This trend is most disturbing to Coptic Christians like Mr. Farag and his family.

"They [the Islamists] don't want to be with Israel, they want to erase it from the face of the Earth," Mr. Farag said. "They want to boycott America. They don't want civilians or ladies to go uncovered. It's just how they want to put us a few hundred years back."

David Aikman, who covered Israel and the Middle East as a former correspondent for Time magazine, said the election of a Coptic vice president would not help the Egyptian church.

"There IS an important part of the [Egyptian] population that is secular, liberal, and would LIKE to see something closer to democratic politics emerge," Mr. Aikman said. "But this is a minority, and the OVERALL tendency in Egyptian politics seems to be that the population is getting more favorable towards Sharia governance."

Mr. Rizk agreed. He said such promises of a Christian or female vice presidents are a "joke."

"You're dealing with SNAKES," he said. "I don't know how to put it clearer than that."

Times of lsrael reporter Elhanan Miller says unity is a "very big buzzword" in Egypt right now, and could counter or at least diminish Islamist dominance there. Moreover, Mr. Morsi's government will continue to rely on U.S. financial and military aid. Any unilateral action against Christians or Jews would [or at least could] present dangerous repercussions for Egypt, which is suffering from serious economic instability.

But Mr. Aikman fears Mr. Morsi will inevitably bow to pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood. "It is very unlikely he can act independently of the Muslim Brotherhood. He may have some tactical latitude in international policy. He may not immediately curtail the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, but the whole thrust of the Muslim Brotherhood is opposed to Jews, and opposed to Israel. If he strays more than tactically from that line, he'll be removed ... and replaced."

President Obama and his State Department have expressed cautious support for Mr. Morsi. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged Americans not to "pre-judge the Muslim Brotherhood." But Mr. Aikman warned that it would be extremely dangerous to underestimate the organization. "It is a complete delusion.... that these people have somehow become moderate and gentle and democratic. It is one of the grossest deceptions I've recently seen ...."

Rizk believes .... "The U.S. gave the green light for a lot of this to happen.... You can't ever take what the Muslim Brotherhood says at face value, Re the U.S. government has. I think the government is totally blind to what is happening over there."

Meanwhile, Mr. Farag and his family watch, and pray. "We as Egyptians need to be heard, and we as Christians need to be supported," he said. "We who live in peace don't want the chaos to continue." [Emphasis added].

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The serious concern voiced in the article just cited (dated July 16th) was prescient. Eric Trager, who holds a fellowship at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, published the following report in the Wall Street Journal for August 16th on the emerging transformation of Egypt's new president, Mohammad Morsi, into an Islamist dictator.

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Egypt's New President Moves Against Democracy
The Wall Street Journal, August 16, 2012
Eric Trager

Egypt's "full transition to civilian rule," long sought by the Obama administration, has finally come to fruition. But it is neither liberal nor democratic.

On August 12, having purged top military officials, Muslim Brotherhood veteran and new President Mohammed Morsi issued a sweeping CONSTITUTIONAL DECLARATION. It grants him complete EXECUTIVE AND LEGISLATIVE power, plus the authority to select the writers of Egypt's new constitution. Eighteen months after Hosni Mubarak's ouster, EGYPT HAS A NEW DICTATOR-and the WAY in which Mr. Morsi grabbed power says much about what he will do with it.

These moves follow an attack last week in the notoriously unstable Sinai Peninsula, where militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, stole a military vehicle, and attempted to breach Israel's borders. The incident gave Mr. Morsi an excuse to sack the security officials who posed the greatest threat to his domestic authority-particulariy the leaders of Egypt's now-defunct military junta, which in June had issued its own constitutional declaration limiting the newly elected president's powers.

More important, Mr. Morsi used the Sinai crisis to assume the powers that the junta had undemocratically asserted for itself in a March 2011 constitutional declaration. He thus claimed unprecedented executive power, including complete authority over legislation, public budgets, foreign affairs, pardons, and political and military appointments.

Mr. Morsils declaration also gives him the power to select a new assembly for writing Egypt's constitution. And since the new constitution must be approved by popular referendum before new parliamentary elections can be held, Mr. Morsi can intervene in the constitution-writing process to delay legislative elections-and thereby remain Egypt's sole legislator-indefinitely.

Based on the evidence to date, Egypt's president will use his expanded power to advance the Muslim Brotherhood's RADICALLY INTOLERANT DOMESTIC AGENDA.

Consider the editors he appointed to lead Egypt's two largest state-run newspapers. The new editor of Al-Ahram is an old Mubarak regime hack who called last year's uprising "foreign funded" and lost his column in 2010 for writing anti-Christian articles. The new editor of Gomhoriya shut down a conference on religious freedoms in 2008 and called for the murder of a well-known Babai activist in 2009. The new editor of Al-Akhbar recently censored an article that criticized the Brotherhood.

Meanwhile, Mr. Morsi's newly appointed defense minister, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, admitted that the military had subjected female activists to "virginity tests" in its brutal  crackdown on Tahrir Square protests in March 2011. In its first major move against dissenters, the Morsi regime this month began prosecuting the editor of Al-Dustour, a PRIVATE daily, for "harming the president through phrases and wording punishable by law. "

While the consequences of Mr. Morsi's power grab are primarily being felt domestically, this is unlikely to last. His recent actions suggest that he will SOON turn his attention to Egyptian FOREIGN policy, steering it in a direction decidedly HOSTILE to U.S. interests.

His constitutional declaration empowers him to do just that.
His amendments to last year's interim constitution give him the authority to sign-and presumably abrogate- treaties. Although many expected that de facto foreign-policy power would remain with the generals, Mr. Morsi's quick reshuffling of the military leadership has brought the armed forces under his command.

Then there are his OVERTURES TO ADVERSARIES OF THE WEST. In a mere six weeks as president, Mr. Morsi has hosted top-level Hamas delegations twice and, despite the flow of militants from Gaza into Sinai, promised to keep open the Rafah border crossing. Last week he welcomed Iran's vice president and was invited to attend the Non-Aligned Movement's upcoming meeting in Tehran.

If he does, he'd be the first Egyptian head of state to visit Iran since the 1979 revolution. Accompanying him could be his new chief of staff, Mohamed Rifaat al-Tahtawi, a former ambassador to Libya and Iran who has declared Israel to be Egypt's "main threat," praised Syria as "a fundamental pillar of the resistance camp [against) Israel," and called for closer relations with Iran and Hamas.

Many Washington analysts believe that Mr.. Morsi won't make any major foreign- policy moves, such as revoking Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. They take his verbal assurances at face value and reason that he won't rock the boat at the very moment that he needs international investment to boost Egypt's ailing economy.

But this same logic once dictated that he wouldn't rush to challenge Egypt's generals. After all, he sat smiling next to Egypt's top military officer (now fired) at military events, and Washington observers widely assumed that the Brotherhood would be content to focus on Islamizing domestic policy while leaving national-security matters to the military.

Mr. Morsi's modus operandi, it turns out, isn't accommodating or gradual. And now that he has declared extensive powers for himself, the only way to prevent him from moving swiftly against American interests is by pushing back immediately.

Rather than touting him as a democratically elected leader-as the Obama administration has frequently done-Washington should denounce his power grab and insist that he demonstrate his commitment to democratic rule with action or risk losing the international goodwill that followed his election. Failing to do so will enable him to continue building his power domestically without paying a price abroad. And that raises the likelihood of another- much more damaging-Sunday surprise. [Emphasis added].
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